Saudi Arabia: Two Human Rights Defenders Prosecuted Before the Specialised Criminal Court

العتيبي والعطاوي

On 17 November 2016, Alkarama wrote to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders (SR HRD) regarding the case of two Saudi activists, Mohamed Al Otaibi and Abdullah Al Atawi, who are currently put on trial before the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) due to their peaceful human rights activism. The next trial hearing is set for 26 December 2016.

Founded on 3 April 2013 by four Saudi activists, the Union for Human Rights – "Al Itihad Lihqouq Al Insan" – was an association that aimed "to spread and defend the culture of human rights, enforce its principles and values, and promote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant international covenants and charters." In late April 2013, its members applied for registration with the Social Affairs Ministry but their application was rejected in May 2013. They were then exposed to legal harassment in order to dissolve the association and halt its activities.

On 20 October 2016, Al Otaibi and Al Atawi were informed that a case had been opened against them before the SCC, an exceptional court which tries cases of "terrorism". On 30 October 2016, their first trial session was held before the SCC and the men were, amongst others, charged with "illegally" founding the Union for Human Rights and for "harming the reputation of Kingdom and its institutions, the national unity as well as the stability and security of the State" through their human rights activism.

During the first session of their trial, the Public Prosecutor requested that the two activists be condemned on the basis of article 6 of the Saudi Cybercrime law under which, the "production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers [...]" is punishable with "imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years and a fine not exceeding three million riyals or to either punishment". He further requested to impose a travel ban on them and to severely punish them in order to "make them an example for others".

Alkarama is highly concerned about the prosecution of Al Otaibi and Al Atawi, by which the Saudi authorities violate both their international legal obligations. The charges they are facing incriminate peaceful acts that fall under the right to freedom of expression and association and that any legal procedure criminalising such acts  be regarded as arbitrary per se. Therefore, Alkarama requested the SR HRD to urgently intervene with the Saudi authorities, requesting them to refrain from persecuting Al Otaibi and Al Atawi, and to stop all the legal procedures against them as they constitute clear measures of reprisals for their peaceful activism.

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